Our sport is rich in noble traditions. Among the strongest is that of hard-working assistants apprenticing for successful professional handlers in the fancy. Anyone with stars in their eyes about a life of glamour is quickly disabused of those notions when they learn that the dogs always come first for top handlers and that partying is never a job perk. Many handlers’ assistants aspire to stay in the sport and strike out on their own one day. Others are happy to remain exhibitors while pursuing other career paths. We reached out to handlers’ assistants to get better acquainted. — Allan Reznik
- Briefly tell us about your background, including your age, where you grew up, if you came from a doggy family and if you have siblings who also show dogs.
- If you didn’t come from a family that showed dogs, where did your interest begin?
- What handlers have you worked for in the past, and for whom are you working now?
- Is this a live-in position, or do you live elsewhere during the week?
- What are some of the best things about being a handler’s assistant?
- What has been the most memorable moment in your dog-showing career?
- What was the greatest disappointment?
- How could the sport be improved?
- What’s the biggest misconception about professional handlers?
- Is your goal to go out on your own and become a full-time professional handler one day?
Assistant for Bill and Taffe McFadden
- I am 23 years old, and I grew up in the Bay Area. I did not grow up in a doggy family, nor is there anyone in my family interested in dog shows. This has been a challenge and a strength: a challenge because oftentimes I did not have anyone close to me who could share my excitement, and a strength because I have been able to share my passion with my family, which has been very supportive.
- My interest in dog shows began when I was very young and watched Clay Coady show ‘Blossom,’ the Lakeland Terrier bitch co-owned by Bill Cosby and Captain Jean Heath, during a dog show on television. Being a big fan of the cartoon series ‘Lil Bill’ and learning that Bill Cosby was the owner of Blossom ignited my already present love for dogs. Shortly thereafter, my mother took me to a dog show at the Cow Palace as a family outing where I was immediately hooked and knew that the world of dog shows was for me.
- I started working for Mark and Sally George as a middle school student for about two years, helping out at their kennel when I was out of school and going to local shows with them. I then spent weekends assisting a variety of handlers who needed extra help. One weekend while I was in middle school before going to work for Mark and Sally, I was seeking to attend a local dog show where I was set to do clean-up duties, and Taffe McFadden offered me a ride without really knowing much about me. That relationship solidified over the years, and by high school, I officially started working for both Bill and Taffe McFadden on a regular basis where I continue to assist. We now laugh over my level of enthusiasm for the dog show world that day Taffe picked me up. I am thankful for all that both Bill and Taffe have done for me, and for that I love them and can’t thank them enough for having taken a chance on a kid with a dream.
- It was a live-in position during the summers while attending college and some time after I graduated as well. However, at this time I do not live at the kennel.
- The ability to learn how to work with the dogs and everything about presenting them. Being in the ring is only a small percentage of what it takes to be a handler and truly present a dog well. It’s the stuff that goes on day-to-day at the kennel and what you build up to before you even get to the show, not to mention the business and ethical aspects of being a true handler. For me, to learn and to be working for amazing dog people like Bill and Taffe is truly a joy.
- It is difficult to go back over my 13 years in dog showing and pinpoint one memorable moment. Every day that I have an opportunity to attend a show, I am reminded of how a wide-eyed, dog-loving little boy had been able to fulfill his dreams, and this is memorable for me.
- When I was a child, my parents taught me that there is no such thing as a disappointment. Every situation is purposeful and has a lesson. Therefore, even during times when I am not as happy as I would like to be, I step back and reflect on what the takeaway may be. When I feel confident that I understood it, I am able to move forward with optimism. I continue to live this way and have applied this philosophy to all aspects of my life, including dog shows. This has kept me grounded and eager to learn more. This even includes times when I may not have won in the ring, as no one likes to lose. However, the losses become my inspiration, and I recognize that there is another chance to excel the following weekend.
- I have engaged in dialogue with others about the challenges of our sport. I think we all know the obvious concerns: There are too many dog shows countrywide, entries are not what they used to be, certain breeds are limited in quality, and so on. However, I still must reflect on the education that I have received as an assistant, education that covers both the sport and life in general. So my optimism causes me to focus on the good of the sport. For example, the Take The Lead foundation raises funds to assist others experiencing hardships; the revenue generated for towns through hosting dog shows is a form of building community; and dogs can bring people from different backgrounds all together on any given weekend at a local fairground or convention center to share a passion.
- That professional handlers are stuck up or untouchable. I will say that I understand how the new exhibitors come to this misconception if they don’t really know what is going on and they catch a handler at the wrong time. However, with that said, I do think that as experienced dog show professionals, we need to be mindful of the image we portray and should pause in the middle of our busy schedule to be nicer to newcomers in the sport or spectators who just come to watch. I feel it is important that we do not have a spectator leaving a show thinking negative thoughts of dog shows and their exhibitors.
- When I was a younger, I used to want to be just like Bill McFadden when I grew up, but unfortunately, I did not grow tall enough. To be honest, as I got older, I kind of lost my drive to be a dog handler, and I can’t really tell you why. I think the more I furthered my education by completing college, the more I was drawn to working in my field of study. I am contemplating strategies to combine both my love for the sport with my formal education. Wouldn’t that be amazing? In the interim, no matter what, working with dogs will always be my passion. I am presently learning a great deal as I am spending more time working with the breeding side of dogs through my Portuguese Water Dog breeding program under the kennel prefix Remis Kennels. This is exciting to me, and I am open to where it may take me.
From the 2014 Annual issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine.